Naked City

HEB Shelving Early Voting?

Eager ballot casters planning to vote early in the springtime may have to strike HEB off their list of possible locations. Long one of the anchors of Travis County's early voting efforts, the grocery chain might withdraw from the polling place roster due to a lawsuit lodged against it by the Independent Texans, a campaign reform advocacy group.

Since summer, HEBs have refused allowing the Independent Texans to collect petition signatures on store property, citing the chain's no-solicitation policy (see Naked City: One Signature, One Vote, Aug. 10). The lawsuit alleges that early voting is no different from solicitation, and thus petitioning should be allowed. Faced with the possibility of a court decision that might force solicitation upon it, HEB notified Travis County on Oct. 2 that it was pulling out of early voting.

HEB spokesperson Kate Brown says the grocer is now "in discussion" with the county about the matter and hopes to stay in the early voting system. "The early voting has been a community service that we have provided for our customers for many years, and unfortunately, there are others in the community who are using that example as a means to gather access for solicitations to our stores," Brown said. But County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir doesn't want HEB pulling out of early voting and has asked Judge Scott McCown, who is presiding over the case, to regard early voting and solicitation as completely distinct activities. (Travis County is not a party to the suit.) "They're absolutely not the same thing at all," DeBeauvoir told us. "Early voting is a static, passive program that is prohibited by law from seeking to persuade or induce any voter to vote for or against any candidate or measure. I'm very concerned." HEB usually hosts about half of the county's 17 to 21 early voting sites. If the chain leaves, she said, "It guts the early voting program."

But Linda Curtis of Independent Texans was livid over DeBeauvoir weighing into the suit. "She's upset that they lost their early voting sites," Curtis said, "and she's blaming the victim. If the state requires signatures, and the city requires signatures to get on the ballot, there has to be some place to go to get them. And she should know that. She should be advocating for political free speech if she's going to advocate at all. ... So right now, I am going to find a Green Party candidate to run for county clerk. I want to find somebody to run against Dana DeBeauvoir and teach her that she's got to be nonpartisan."

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